Going into this shortened season, the New York Rangers were expected to be NHL world beaters.
The team was coming off a season in which it finished first in the Atlantic Division, first in the Eastern Conference and came within two wins of getting to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994.
Furthermore, the team had acquired one of the league’s best power forwards in Rick Nash to go along with the likes of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin.
This year, however, the Blueshirts have been anything but Stanley Cup contenders. The team has struggled to score goals, has had difficulty scoring on the power play and cannot put together long enough winning streaks to make any significant movement in the standings.
Last week, New York lost three straight games and were outscored 9-2 in the process by the Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets and Pittsburgh Penguins. While losing to the Penguins was at least somewhat manageable, losing to the likes of the Sabres and Jets was inexcusable.
Head coach John Tortorella was particularly furious after the team dropped a 3-1 decision to the Sabres in Buffalo last Tuesday.
“I don’t think the Sabres were the hungrier team, I thought we stunk,” Tortorella said after his team lost to the aforementioned Sabres. “I’m not going to give Buffalo any credit. I will give their third line credit, they outplayed our top players and that can’t happen.”
“I couldn’t be more disgusted and disappointed with the way our top guys played, with the way we handled ourselves through it,” Tortorella said. “That team was ripe to be beaten and we simply did not play the way we’re supposed to play.”
With the way the Rangers played last week, many fans and media members are wondering if Tortorella is going to be able to keep his job. Given that the team is performing well below expectations this season, that kind of thinking is definitely warranted.
With that said, Tortorella should keep his job and is the right man for this team. Below are a few reasons why he will stay on as the team’s head coach at least for the rest of this season and the start of next season.
Lack of production not Tortorella’s fault
The Blueshirts are 27th in the league in scoring while ranking 11th in this category last season.
Tortorella can’t be blamed for his team’s forwards not scoring like they should be. Marian Gaborik has fallen far this season, Brad Richards has been inconsistent and while Rick Nash has been the team’s best forward with 10 goals, he is not scoring at the pace the organization expects him to.
The team’s forwards must step up and Tortorella has the skills that are necessary to make that happen.
Saying all the right things
While Tortorella was visibly angry after last Tuesday night’s loss to the Sabres, the fiery head coach has kept his head and believes in the hockey club he has.
“I think a lot of our guys understand how we go about our business, and that’s each day at a time. I’m not even looking at the standings. I try not to. I know everybody does because there’s so much talk about it," Tortorella said. "But I think you can take care of your business each and every day and things will fall into place, and that’s the way we’ve gone about it here for the past three or four years. And our leadership group, I think, falls in behind the coaching staff in that thinking. So it doesn’t matter where we’re at right now. There’s a lot of games to be played. A lot of things can change good and bad."
Positive messages do get through and as long as Tortorella continues to preach positivity, he will have the Rangers going in the right direction.
Still a solid defensive team
New York may not be scoring a lot of goals but Tortorella’s defensive system certainly has his hockey club doing a good job of keeping pucks out of the net.
The Rangers are fourth in the league in goals against. The likes of Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman and Steve Eminger have all upped their games in the absence of Marc Staal and have given this Rangers team a chance to win night in and night out.
No, this season has not gone the way the team’s fans wanted it to. And yes, some blame should be placed on Tortorella for the team’s shortcomings so far this season.
At least for right now and the beginning of next season, Tortorella is the right man to lead the Rangers.